News story

Food crime court experts trained

Public analysts who investigate food fraud received realistic court training at a seminar organised by the Government Chemist programme.

Royal Society of Chemistry qualified public analysts who carry out food authenticity testing and are experts in food and toxicology attended training to prepare them for providing evidence in court.

Barristers from Gough Square Chambers and a magistrate were present at the seminar which was organised by Michael Walker, consultant referee analyst from the Government Chemist programme, and held at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, London, on 14 February 2014.

To make the training as realistic as possible, the 12 public analysts gave their evidence in chief before Judith Barnett, who sat on the bench at Harrow Magistrates Court for many years, and Malvern Barnett MChemA, who has served as a public analyst for several food authorities.

The cases included contamination of peanuts with cancer-causing aflatoxins, meat species food fraud and passing off vegetable oil concoctions as premium dairy products. Also under scrutiny were concealed additives that can affect children’s behaviour, a food supplement making very dubious claims to prevent, treat or cure diseases and watered spirit drinks.

Toxicologists who analyse post mortem specimens for coroners in public analyst laboratories also practiced their forensic skills. All of the practice case material came from recent investigations in public analysts laboratories. Barristers Claire Andrews and Jonathan Goulding acted alternately as prosecution and defence counsel, bringing considerable forensic skills and a broad knowledge of food law to the exercise.

For serious contraventions of food law where a prosecution takes place, the public analyst’s formal certificate is accepted by the courts as sufficient evidence of the facts. Case law has established that if it is unchallenged a public analyst’s certificate should be accepted by magistrates who must act upon it and convict.

The public analyst is empowered by case law to interpret the analysis according to statutory requirements, a function normally reserved to the courts themselves.

The next training event is the week-long residential course - Analysis and Examination of Foods 2014 – which will be held at Reading University from 28 April to 2 May. The course provides preparation and professional development for senior laboratory and reporting staff in public analyst laboratories.

Contact Michael Walker for more information: